Cars News and Reviews Astronomical Numbers and Climate Change - CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

“There are 1011 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers.” ? Richard P. Feynman

Photo Alan Fitzsimmons

One wonders what the Nobel-prize winning physicist may have said about today's US debt, which is counted in the 1013 dollars, or a hundred times more than there are stars in galaxy. One suspects that this "citizen scientist" would have some sharp remarks on the low acceptance in the US of climate science.

The argument against starting that fight sooner rather than later has always been that the amounts of money that need to be spent are daunting.

Lord Stern has revised his estimate of the cost to fight climate change to 2% of gGDP (up from 1%), or about $ 1.4 tn, specifically, to keep CO2 levels below 500ppm. Estimates of this cost depend strongly on the target CO2 level, and vary between close to zero and 5.5% of gGDP.

The fear is that global spending at that level would break "the economy".

But inaction also breaks the economy, and faster than you think.

Already, the reduction of global GDP (gGDP) due to climate change is estimated at $ 1.2 tn annually. That's 1.2 x 1012 dollars. Or about 1.6% of gGDP. And as the effects of global warming become more severe, the cost of climate change is only going to rise. About $ 44tn of the world's GDP are situated in countries at high risk of the effects of climate change.

It seems it's time to pull out the big guns on this worldwide problem. After all, it can be called a serious security issue in many ways. There are lots of places where enormous amounts of money is spent on things that are questionable in the light of the planetary emergency.

One example is media advertising: the global spending on advertising in all media has reached $ 0.56 tn in 2012 and is projected to rise further in the coming years. That's nearly a third of the required funds to fight global warming. But there are other places.

In 2012, the total global spending on defense is $ 1.76 tn. 'Nough said.

And the total global subsidies to the fossil fuel industry amount to $ 1.9 tn every year. Of that, $ 0.48 tn is in direct subsidies for people to buy energy, the rest is in the hidden cost of dealing with air pollution and climate damage: that is consistent with Lord Stern's $ 1.4 tn estimate. But it doesn not include costs like cleaning up after spills.

While we all know about the spill from BP's Deep Horizon disaster (total damages up to $ 90 bn), there are plenty of smaller spills from pipelines, and oil and fracking rigs that together must amount to another large number to be added to the constellation of astronomical numbers. If the fossil fuel industry were made responsible for any cleanup, to the last penny, enormous amounts of public money would be freed for fighting the really important battles.

One direct consequence of removing these subsidies is to expose the seemingly astronomical profits of fossil fuel companies for what they really are: not worth the investment.



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Cars News and Reviews The Car of the Future- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Fans of Star Trek have delighted in the Audi ad that pits old Spock (Leonard Nimoy in a Mercedes CLS 550C) against young Spock (Zachary Quinto in an Audi S7 hatchback). The CLS is portrayed as old-school luxury, while the S7 is presented as a 23rd century starship. In the end, though, both are trumped by the self-driving Audi TTS (developed at Stanford).

"The Challenge"

Speculation abounds, as it has always, about what the car of the future looks like. "The car of the future will be electric. Powered by fuel cells. By hydrogen. By a small on-board nuclear reactor. It will look all curvy. It will look like a Lamborghini, only more 'space age'. It will be self-driving. It can fly."

Personally, I have no truck with the looks of the future car. I don't care if it looks like a box car. Or rather, perhaps I would prefer it to look like a box car (more on that below). Here is CelloMom's vision of our future transportation - or perhaps more appropriately called wishful thinking.

In the not-too-distant future, we will need a serious re-think of our energy flow. And since so much of that energy flows on behalf of our transportation needs, we will have to look out of the box when it comes to our cars.

In my ideal future, there are still cars on the road. Fewer than now. And none of them are mine. I have given up the burden of car ownership - the monthly payments, the insurance, the annual inspections, the oil changes, the hoisting at the fan belt, even the endless cleaning cycle - and traded all that for à la carte transportation.

In large cities, I can have a choice of public transportation options like the subway and the bus, paid for by a card much like the SmarTrip card used in Washington DC or the Oyster card for the London transit system. Lower-density suburbs still exist - there are too many of them to be abandoned or dismantled overnight - and there transportation are still provided by cars, but with a twist.

Cars are owned and operated by transportation providers that maintain a fleet of self-driving units. I use my phone to request a car, specifying the To and From locations and the time I want to depart or arrive, plus any large luggage, such as a cello. The system messages me with an estimate of the time I can expect the car, and a price for the ride, which depends on the distance and the time of day (deep discounts for off-peak travel).

Self-driving cars are already here, and the software required to optimise the travel routes of a large number of vehicles has been developed by companies like UPS.

Because I get charged per ride I have become very mindful of efficiency measures such as bundling my errands, or perhaps asking my neighbour who is going grocery shopping to fetch me the dozen eggs which are my only need for the day.

I get a two-minute warning by phone before the car pulls up in front of my house (I don't have a driveway any more, it's all garden, as glorious as I can manage to make it). I get in, perhaps joining other people who are in the car already. I could specify privacy in the car, which would cost more, but the default is that you share the car with other passengers; rides are optimised for optimal total efficiency in real time, so the size of the car that comes to pick you up depends on how many other people in your neighbourhood happen to need a ride at the same time.

Rides to schools have priority over everything else. Rides to work are timed to occur a little later in the morning so that the same vehicles can be used for that commute; but most of the workforce telecommutes at least part of the time anyway.

I get total flexibility in the kind of vehicle that moves me and my stuff around: If I specify that I'm hauling a cache of eight-foot two by fours for a home project, I get sent a different type of vehicle than when it's my four-person family going out together. If I want to organise a trip with twelve people, we can all fit in one vehicle, just for that one time, but none of us need to actually own an extended Econo-line van.

For longer distances, the cars would clump into small highway caravans of self-driving units, maintaining the same speed, bumpers separated by a few feet. This kind of hypermiling, impossibly dangerous in human-operated cars, would boost the overall fuel efficiency significantly, since only the caboose car would be hampered by serious turbulence instead of each car. My guesstimate is that optimal fuel efficiency requires that each car be quite boxy, which incidentally also gives best headroom throughout the car, so that even sitting at the rear of the car you don't have to feel like the ceiling is bearing down on you.

Even in town, cars can drive much closer together than they need now. This frees up space on streets; perhaps middle lanes can be turned into median parks that accomodate festivals and pop-up stores. You don't need in-town parking spaces any more, which anyway mess up the streetscape: when not in use the cars are tucked away in the multistory garages where the maintenance is also done. So on-street parking lanes can be converted to bike paths. We won't need three parking spaces per car any more, and since we share the ride, we need a much smaller total number of cars, another energy saving.

And sure, the cars are electric, and get their juice from renewables like wind and solar, their batteries forming a vast storage reservoir of energy that smooth out the vagaries of the highly variable availability of sun and wind. But as much savings in carbon emissions come more from the way we use the cars, as from what powers them.

Disney will eventually build a theme park where you can drive an old-style car with a steering wheel, after going through their training session. They set up a mock village in which you can drive around (not too fast), complete with shops, antique parking meters, and - o marvel! - traffic lights.



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Cars News and Reviews Snow, Ice, and Your Tires- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Saturday

You know you're in trouble when it's been snowing, you're out on the road - and more than half of the other vehicles on the road are snow ploughs.

Photo by SPQRobin

Under those conditions the wisest thing to do is to stay at home. Build a snowman or an igloo with your children, bake bread, make some slow food, settle with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate while your children shovel the driveway. Enjoy the day. Take a vacation day if you have to. An employer that requires its employees to struggle their way into work under unsafe road conditions is not a good employer.

If you absolutely must go out into the great white world, remember that your tires are your best friends, more than they usually are.

If you live in a place where wintry conditions happen for several months of the year, you may consider getting winter tires: they are designed to give better traction than year-round tires, by the structure and depth of the treads. But more importanly, the material itself remains softer and more pliable at low temperatures, giving better traction even on dry (but cold) roads. This means better handling, and a shorter stopping distance. It's not surprising that winter tires are popular in Canada.

If you live in warmer climates you might not need winter tires. But these days, with climate change making weather more erratic everywhere, living in a temperate zone is not a guarantee that you will never be visited by snow. Even Jerusalem had enough snow to build good snowmen. That makes snow-covered palm trees the new image for Christmas cards.

Snow in Jerusalem. Via

Obviously, if it snows once in a blue moon where you live, you're not going to spring for winter tires. You don't have to. You don't even have to do anything special to your regular tires. But watch out for urban myths. In particular, there is a myth floating around that letting the air out of your tires gives you a safer ride on snow.

It is a myth.

Sure, soft tires give you better traction on snow and ice. If that's all you did, and at low speeds, and not very far, you may be allright. But consider also that the rubber is harder; under-inflating your tires causes a larger deformation to your tires which is tough on the hardened rubber. When you go driving at higher speeds, that larger deformation can cause the tires to heat up excessively, and you may end up with blown tires just when you least need it: on the side of a snowed-over highway, for instance.

The advice experts give is to check your tires before you drive away, and make sure they're inflated to the proper pressure while cold. If the roads are icy, you're not going that fast, and the tires don't warm up they way they usually do, so the pressure inside (which depends on the temperature) stays lower than usual, keeping the tires softer. This way, if the highway is clear when you make it there, and you go at higher speeds, the tires will warm up in a safe way, at the proper pressure.

Speaking of speeds: your best friend on icy or snowy roads (apart from your properly inflated tires) is patience. The traction, or sideways force, you need to go around the corner depends quadratically on the speed at which you take that corner, so you need to slow to a crawl to take that corner without starting to slip and slide.

Making it up the hill is also best done at low speeds. If you have all-wheel drive, make sure it's turned on. AWD is very helpful for getting forward in deeper snow, and up hills. However, it is not helpful for steering per se. And the extra weight works against you in braking.

In fact, if you drive a car with AWD you would be well advised to be extra careful in snow: because the feeling of better traction on the wheels going forward may give you a false sense of security. The truth is that in wintry conditions, AWD does not give you better handling; Getting around the corners safely still requires care and slow speed. And you may need a significantly longer brake length.

In Sweden, the Volvo S60 is available in nine different versions. Only one of those nine has AWD. Because real Swedes don't need AWD to negotiate their snowy roads. But I bet they do winter tires.



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Cars News and Reviews St. Nicholas Storm- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Thursday

The storm that has hit the northwestern coasts of Europe today is starting to be known in the Netherlands as St. Nicholas Storm, or sinterklaasstorm (like the Germans, the Dutch also love to string their words together. Back when telegrams were priced by the word, it was cheaper that way).

The KNMI, the Dutch equivalent of NOAA, has called code red, which means you should stay indoors unless you have real business outside. On the coast, winds up to 11 Beaufort are expected, pretty high even in wind-blown Holland. Some flights have been cancelled. Train traffic has been stopped in the northern half of the country. There are reports of cargo trucks being blown over.

This is terrible news for Dutch children, who are eagerly awaiting a visit from St. Nicholas, their patron saint who, as legend has it, makes it to the Low Lands by steam boat, and tours the country's roofs on his white horse on the eve of his saint's day to distribute sweets and oranges from Spain.

Let me put this in perspective: this is nowhere near Haiyan, the typhoon that wreaked such immense devastation in the Phillipines. This is just a storm, it doesn't even have an official name.

Still, the fact that the storm arrives together with a springtide causes many anxious eyes to look at the nation's coastline.

The springtide driven flood of 1953, which cost nearly 2000 lives and inundated half a province is alive in the nation's memory. Half the country is below the current sea level, and the rest of the place is not much higher; it's telling that the Dutch media tend to quote the highest likely sea level rise associated with global warming, rather than the possible range.

The previous time winds went up to 11 Bft was only a few weeks ago, on 28 October. But there was no springtide then. Still, this should give pause to a country whose very history has been shaped by its ambivalent relationship with the seas.

Floods feature very prominently in their list of disasters, there is a litany of them stretching back to the middle ages when storms were named after the saints on whose day they hit the land, like the catastrophic St. Felix Flood of 1530, in which up to 100,000 people died and an entire chunk of land, now called the Drowned Land of Zuid-Beveland, was lost to the waters.

Another devastating one was the Sta. Lucia Flood of 1287, which cost 50,000 - 80,000 lives, separated West-Friesland from Friesland and formed the deep marine intrusion that made the country look like a horseshoe until the twentieth century when a steady progression of poldering reclaimed the land area.

Given this history, it's no surprise that the Dutch are pouring nearly two billion euros a year into shoring up their dunes and dikes: their first line of defence against the power of the sea. (In a case of serious disconnect, they are also exploring for shale gas).

The Dutch might be allright for a while, but you can't say the same of the people of the Philippines, who now face the terrible aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Nor of Somalians, who in that same week were hit by a powerful cyclone. You shudder to think of what might happen if a typhoon should hit low-lying and densely populated Bangladesh.

A resident of beautiful (and low-lying) Kiribati has applied for climate refugee status in New Zealand, but his application has been rejected by immigration authorities, and now also by New Zealand's High Court.

It is quite possible that that decision was driven by a reluctance to set a precedent. Because it's only a matter of time before the world will see many more climate refugees. Since the industrialised west has so far shown itself to be unwilling to stand up to the moral challenge of effecting social justice, I suspect this issue will eventually reach the International Court of Justice, which is in The Hague. Let's hope it will still be above water by then.



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Cars News and Reviews 2013 Turkey Award: Cadillac Escalade Hybrid- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Wednesday

This is the time of year when thoughts turn to birds of the kind that's loaded with tryptophan and side dishes. But earlier this week there was exciting news about the direct predecessor of birds: the dinosaurs. Fossilised remains have been found in Utah of a gigantic dinosaur which lived about 100 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period just preceding the era of Tyrannosaurus rex.

This dinosaur, named Siats meekerorum, was one ugly brother, if you believe the reconstructions. A giant carnivore, it looked much meaner than T. rex; in fact, it probably terrorised T. rex for millions of years. The specimen found in Utah was an impressive 30 feet long and weighed about 9,000 pounds - and that was a juvenile.

It wasn't until after Siats became extinct that T. rex developed into the late-Cretaceous giant we know today, one of the largest land carnivores of all time. An adult T. rex could reach a total length of about 40 feet, and weigh a massive 14,000 pounds. No wonder it was always hungry.

A similar story has unfolded in the automotive world. The late 1980s saw the gaining popularity of the SUV, modeled after the versatile Jeep used in the Second World War, but built on the chassis of a truck. I can understand the utility, but I still don't see the "sport" aspect of this oversised beast. It was large and always hungry and terrorised all the other personal vehicles on the road.

Cadillac developed the Escalade SUV at the turn of the millennium, in a competitive bid for a slice of the expanding SUV pie. Eschewing the trend for smaller size that saw the introduction of mid-size SUVs, "compact" SUVs and even "mini-SUVs", the Escalade was an unabashed "bling SUV", as it was called by a reviewer in Edmund's. I suppose it caters to people who confuse size with desirability.

This thing is HUGE: it's 203 inches (5.14m) long, or an incredible 222 inches (5.64m) for the extended version with the open bed in the back, presumably for moving Sub-Zero walk-in refrigerators during a home renovation. With a width of 79 inches (2.00m), it hogs the road. This is probably what the British comedian Sean Lock was thinking of when he said Americans drive "bungalows with windshields". No engine put into this vehicle was ever smaller than 5.7liters.

The curb weight is now about 6,000lbs, but can be loaded to a total weight of 12,000 pounds, which is only 14% less than the weight of an adult T. rex. Add to that the front lights, which manage to look like a few rows of teeth. It's a monster.

The current version comes with a 6.2L V8. Cadillac's website does not list its fuel efficiency, but the EPA lists it as 14 / 18 mpg (cty/hwy).

Sales of the Escalade have declined sharply since 2007. But Cadillac has jumped onto the hybrid bandwagon, because it seems that the mere word "hybrid" will make good a host of environmental insults, and nobody will look into the details too closely.

But the truth is that the Escalade Hybrid still has a 6.0L V8 engine that puts out 332HP. It gets 20 / 23 mpg (cty/hwy). So yes, it does 30% better than the non-hybrid version. But come: it matters little what the technology is called that you use to keep down your total carbon footprint - ultimately the only thing that matters is grams CO2 per passenger mile. At 21 mpg average fuel efficiency, the Escalade Hybrid still emits 418 grams, or nearly one pound of CO2 for every mile you drive it.

I'm sorry, but strapping a battery pack on the back of a dinosaur doesn't take away the fact that it is a dinosaur. The Escalade Hybrid gets CelloMom's 2013 Turkey Award.



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Cars News and Reviews Review: 2013 Mercedes E-Class Wagon- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Sunday

My brother had a housemate named Gregory, a gentle giant whose heart is even larger than his person. Gregory's three small dogs (named "The Pack" by my children) eat better than many people on a junk food diet, since their owner can't abide by bad food; not even for dogs. Gregory would treat us to amazing food that looks as beautifiul as it tastes, the whole complemented by his flower arrangements: he is an ikebana master as well as an outstanding cook.

I suspect my children think of him in some way every time they put some flowers in a vase or dig up the moss in our yard for stuffing into a hollow brick, perhaps with some maple blossoms. They loved going to the farmers' market with Gregory, who made us all laugh by legging it, from the flower stands to the organic vegetables, from the bakers to the local cheese makers, all the while making plans for dinner and the next ikebana class he's teaching.

For moving friends, food and flowers, Gregory drives a Mercedes E wagon. It moves like a tank, but inside it gives a ride gentle enough for a baby, a delicate dessert, or the array of Japanese flower pots that Gregory needs to move when he has a show. His dogs ride in the back then they go to the park, and there's plenty of room for my brother's dog as well.

My children much preferred Gregory's car over my brother's Prius, mostly for the two extra seats that pop up in the cargo space, with a shallow well for legspace. They had their own private space with a great view out of the back window and not too much interference from the grownups in the two forward facing rows.

In the US, the E-Class Wagon is available with the 3.5L V6 engine, with 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Let us not speak of the E63 AMG, with its 5.5L V8 engine: I thought such engines had gone the way of the dinosaours in the late 1970s; they have no place in the carbon-conscious 21st century.

Let's rather take a look at the German site of the E-Klasse T-Modell. People who drive this car tend to be sartorially gifted, and if you select your clothes with as much care as they do, why not lavish care on the choice of your car? The brochure (download via this page) is a demonstration that true choice still exists, if you know where to look for it.

Mercedes-Benz offers the E-Class Wagon in six different diesel types and ten gasoline types: this is choice. Of these sixteen variants, six have 4MATIC all wheel drive, and four of the diesels have Mercedes' BlueTEC catalytic exhaust scrubbing technology.

And one is a sweet diesel hybrid with fuel efficiency specified as 53 mpg (see table below).

The Wagon is available in basic trim, Elegance and AvantGarde. Of course, you can get it in any colour you want, including ones that aren't on the Mercedes palette. In Europe, you can choose a standard or a panoramic sliding roof (check it out here: click on the "Panorama-Schiebedach" option).

But beyond the wheels (13 choices, ranging from sturdy to cathedral window), the customer specifies the car to the last detail, including the colour of the ceiling, leather on the pop-up seats in the back, and whether you want aluminum or walnut decorative elements in the interior. Not to mention a plethora of on-board entertainment options, including the cool Bang & Olufsen BeoSound system.

There is the memory feature, that remembers personal settings for front seats, mirrors and such, for up to three different drivers. This is great if you frequently share the car with drivers whose physiques are different from your own.

The sixteen in the E-Class lineup includes the E350 4MATIC: it is rated a "C" in the EURO5 efficiency classification. Of the ten gasoline versions, only two are rated "B" or better. The E63 AMG is unapologetically rated "F". To highlight its dinosaur status.

The diesels are rated "A", except the E350 4MATIC which is rated "B" under the stricter EURO6 schedule, and the E300 BlueTEC Hybrid which is rated "A+". Even that one can reach speeds up to 144mph.

Diesel hybrids are still rare, but are obviously the way to go for minimising carbon emissions in a car running on fossil fuels. The only way to better that is to go the way of the Volvo V60 plug-in diesel hybrid.


Mercedes E: gasoline, diesel, hybrid

Type E 350 4MATIC

E 200 CDI

E 300 BlueTEC

Hybrid T-Modell
Year 2013 2013 2013
Emissions rating ULEV/Bin5 Euro5 "A" Euro5 "A+"

$ 58,600
€ 43,643

($ 60,153)
€ 55,662

($ 76,720)
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 19 / 27 mpg 6.3 / 4.7 L/100km 8.5 / 5.4 L/100km
Avg. quoted  

5.2 L/100km

4.4 L/100km

Avg. actual      
Carbon emissions, quoted   135 g/km 116 g/km
Engine 3.5L V6 2.1L Diesel R4 2.1L Diesel R4
Power 302HP

@ 6500rpm
134HP @

201 HP

Torque 273 lbs-ft 265 lbs-ft 369 lbs-ft
Transmission 7spd Auto / shift paddles 6-spd man 7G-Tronic Plus (Auto)
Fuel Premium unleaded Diesel Diesel
Length, mm(in) 192.7 in 4905 mm  
Width, mm(in) 81.5 in 1854 mm  
Height, mm(in) 58.9 in 1474 mm  
Weight, kg(lbs) 4431 lbs 1845 kg 1955 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 57.4 cuft 695 / 1950 L 650 / 1905 L
Turning radius, m(ft)   11.3 m 11.3 m
Top speed, kph(mph)   205kph

(127 mph)
232 kph




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Cars News and Reviews We Need Good News on Climate Change- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

In a recent article in Yes! magazine, Sarah van Gelder makes the case for truly objective reporting in the media on the climate crisis. She makes the well-documented point that "false balance" in reporting gives too strong a voice to climate change deniers and is thus a distortion of the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming: that it is real, and that humans are the cause.

But there is another way in which the media does not faithfully reproduce reality: the omission of stories about people working on solutions. While the stories about climate change must necessarily include grim reports on hurricanes, wildfires and ocean acidification, these very depressing and scary news items are not the whole story. Van Gelder writes:

"More truly objective reporting on the climate crisis and its systemic causes would be a huge improvement over what we find now. But still it would be just half the story. The other half is the solutions. We need much more reporting on solutions, and not just to keep despair from sending us screaming into those rising seas."

PV array atop the US Department of Energy

"... There is a climate justice movement happening that few know exists—a movement founded in the grassroots and especially in communities that are often ignored by the corporate media: Appalachia, indigenous communities, youth, farmers, fishermen, and small businesses. It's a movement that doesn’t separate environmental concerns from human concerns, but that recognizes that they are one and the same.

At the forefront of this movement are young people, ranchers, tribal leaders, people living near refineries, those resisting hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking), and others who are most affected by the fossil fuel industry. People are using their bodies to block the building of tar sands pipelines, to stop mountaintop removal, to prevent drilling in their communities—both to protect their land, water, and health, and to protect the climate."

This is really heartening stuff, and we all need to hear more of it. In particular, we need the inspiration, and the feeling that we are not alone in working to right the conditions on this planet. Van Gelder continues:

"The truth is that there is no shortage of solutions—whether it's Germany's turn to solar power or the carbon-storing power of restored soils. But given the shortage of stories about solutions, it's little wonder that so many people—once they understand the implications of the climate crisis—leap right from denial to despair. When stories of people taking action are censored, when the innovations that could help us tackle the greatest crisis humanity has ever faced go unreported, when the ordinary people and grassroots leaders working to build a sustainable future go unquoted, people are left isolated and feeling powerless.

That's what makes solutions journalism so important at this point in human history."

I'll do my bit: I've started a new Pinterest board called "Reasons for Hope". So yes, it's arranged right next to the "Alarm Bells are Ringing" board, but it's the juxtaposition that stirs us into action. If you find anything that belongs on that board, please let me know about it: no victory too small.

A larger collection of solutions that have been put into place can be found at the #itshappening page of 10:10, which reports the good news on all scales large and small, from Portugal achieving 70% renewable power generation, to the resurgence of bicycling in Dhaka, Bangladesh, to a homeowner proudly presenting the newly installed solar cells on his roof, to stories of urban gardening.

The 10:10 organisation proposes that we cut our carbon footprint, 10% at a time, and offers challenges, games and those inspiring stories from all around the world, to help us in our own efforts.

The Transition Network is another source of stories about how communities are re-thinking their energy generation and use. Communities can learn from each other through the Transition Town Network and the Sustainable Cities Collective.

It's a bandwagon. Jump on!



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Cars News and Reviews What the NASCAR-winning Hudson Hornet and my VW Golf have in common.- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

I didn't know who or what the Hudson Hornet was, until I saw the movie Cars, where the gruff Doc Hudson plays mentor to the eager young racer Lightning McQueen. Lightning discovers that the sedate old Doc, now the village doctor, once had an illustrious career as the multiple winner of the coveted Piston Cup.

The car on which the character of Doc Hudson was modeled was even more illustrious than its screen persona. It was a powerhouse. It was a multiple winner of the NASCAR races, and I mean mega-multiple: The Hudson Hornet won 27 of the 34 NASCAR Grand National races in 1952, plus 22 wins in 37 races in 1953, and 17 of the 37 races in 1954. A serious track record.

Photo Greg Gjerdingen

Look at it: more than half the length of this car was dedicated to the engine compartment. Its engine was a six-cylinder in-line titan with a total volume of 308 cubic inches, which is also known as 5.0 Liters, the largest 6-cylinder engine in its time. This thing was an icon of power and speed. Vroom!

Its giant engine generated power of 145HP and a torque of 257 lb-ft, and roared the Hornet on, at speeds up to 85 mph. It could be coaxed to 112 mph when tinkered up for stock car racing. No-one would dare ask the fuel efficiency of a car of such prowess, but it did around 10 mpg.

Enter my car.

I'm sorry to disappoint you, it's not the pretty blue Porsche of the Cars movie (I couldn't move two cellos around in that, could I?). It's a 2012 Volkswagen Golf with a turbodiesel engine. And no, the ride is not as cushy as that in a Hornet, which was a luxury car. I mean, an electric clock was standard.

Photo M93

For one, my car is quite a bit smaller than the Hudson Hornet - in all three directions. But it is brave anyway. Its predecessor, a 2001 Golf, cheerfully carried two parents, a toddler and a baby in their car seats, plus one grandparent (it was the era before cellos). With the back seat down, it can carry a few hay bales, and once, memorably, two bales of rare 20-inch fiberglass wall insulation.

Our current Golf will carry two adults, two older children, and two cellos. If that isn't brave I don't know what is.

It has a snub nose: Its 2.0L engine doesn't need a lot of space. But - and there's progress for you - it puts out just about the same power: 140 HP compared to the Hornet's 145 HP. And it has nearly the same torque as the Hornet, 236 lbs-ft.

So there you have it: under its diminuitive hood, my Golf harbours the same power as the NASCAR super-winning Hudson Hornet.

But because it's lighter, my Golf will accelerate faster: 0-100 kph in 8.6 seconds, compared to the Hornet's 13.9 seconds. In a race, my Golf will be quicker off the start line, and once going, can get up to 134mph. After all, it was built for the German Autobahn. I don't know that a Golf has ever participated in a NASCAR race. I do know that, if pressed, it could leave the Hornet in the dust.



Hudson Hornet

VW Golf
Engine Volume 5.0 L 2.0 L
Cylinders 6 4
Power 145 HP 140 HP
Torque 257 lbs-ft 236 lbs-ft
Maximum Speed 85 mph 134 mph
Fuel Efficiency ~ 10 mpg 38 mpg


All this is not to brag what my car could do at NASCAR, but rather to show that it has way too much under the hood. Anyway, what would a cello-toting mom do with a NASCAR-ready car? The full-sized cello is rented: I need to return that in one piece. The 3/4 cello is now mine, so if anything I'm even more careful with that.

My car licks the Hudson Hornet in another way: its fuel efficiency is nearly four times higher than the Hornet's. This is all due to the progress on the technology of internal combustion engines. But that progress has not ended. Europeans are moving to smaller and smarter engines and getting better fuel efficiency than Americans, who have been staying with large engines for decades.

One version of my Golf, which you and I can't buy here, is the 1.6L TDI with BlueMotion efficiency enhancing technology. It has a 1.6L turbodiesel engine, 20% smaller than the 2.0L in my car. But that smaller engine (105HP) still allows acceleration 0-100kph in 10.7 seconds, and still takes the car to 119 mph which is rather more than the speed limit on most US highways. Even that wimpier version of the Golf would still beat the Hudson Hornet.

On the other hand, the fuel efficiency of the 1.6L TDI is around 49mpg, and its German price tag is € 2,575 ($ 3,550) lower than that for the 2.0L TDI. There is no question in my mind: I'd rather drive this 1.6L TDI than my current 2.0L TDI. Its smaller carbon footprint is better for the planet, and its smaller price tag and higher efficiency is better for my budget.

I don't need a car that could be in a NASCAR race. And neither do you, despite car manufacturers' earnest attempts to make you think you do. So next time you need to buy a car, why not ask how much horsepower you really need?

See my post on horsepower to do the estimate. Spoiler: to drive a car the size of a Toyota Camry on the US Insterstate highway system at 65mph, you need about 76 HP. Go ahead, check my math.



Shared at Small Footprint Fridays


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Cars News and Reviews Energy Transition: Moving Into a Better Future- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

On 20 October, 2013 my brother, one of the most important men in my life, was married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony, surrounded by the love of family and friends and by the peace of nature, the whole suffused in brilliant sunshine. His bride, my new sister, was even more radiant than she usually is.

Photo Jason Hutchens

Neither of them are extremely young. They have each seen quite a bit of the world, sometimes on their own, sometimes in a relationship, so far transitory. They have known the advantages to being unattached. There is a certain kind of freedom that you enjoy if you only have to take care of yourself and no-one else.

Like many of us, these two people have decided to give up that freedom, in exchange for a formal and lasting connection, made of their own free will, in a leap of faith that their life together will be better than the separate lives they are leaving behind. The bride's best friend, her honorary brother, read this poem at the ceremony:


Standing on the edge of my open heart

     I leap into the air

     sweet, breathable, yet unknown,

What awaits me I do not pretend to undertand;

     I will open my arms of my days

     and fly into this horizon

                                     Janet Childs


This kind of thing takes courage. A marriage is a celebration, not only of the couple's future life, but also of their courage in having overcome the fear of the unknown: the possibility of having to deal with their partner's ditry socks strewn all over the floor, and other annoying habits as yet undiscovered, other vagaries of a life together.

In this we are like the explorers of old, back when the Earth still had large pieces of Terra Incognita, and when people still warned you of falling off the edge if you went too far, or of monsters that awaited you in unknown seas.

Those warnings didn't deter the Vikings, and later the Spanish and Portuguese explorers: they went ahead anyway, and loaded their too-small ships with men, supplies, and whatever navigation technology they had at their disposal, and set sail.

And found no large sea monsters. But a large new continent, filled with possibility. And beyond that, even more stunning, a vast new ocean, and eventually, the final proof that the earth is not flat but round, and can be circumnavigated. Probably the sestet of Keat's sonnet are still the best words to describe the wonder of discovery:


On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I traveled in the realms of gold

     And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;

     Round many western islands have I been

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told

     That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;

     Yet never did I breathe its pure serene

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies

     When a new planet swims into his ken;

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes

     He stared at the Pacific—and all his men

Looked at each other with a wild surmise—

     Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

                                     John Keats


There is the excitement of the "wild surmise". There is a stunning into silence in the solemn acknowledgement of the opening of a whole new era, and a closing of the old. (Darien is what is now Panama).

The "watcher of the skies" is William Herschel, who built telescopes and peered through them at night, after his day jobs as the organist at the Octagon Chapel, as the Director of Public Concerts in Bath and as a music teacher at his home. His observations led to a whole new way of thinking about the birth of solar systems and indeed entire galaxies, and definitively displaced mankind from the center of the universe.

No two ways about it: these transitions and discoveries are scary.

But marriage lends to life a richness that, while not impossible, is very, very difficult to find on your own. The discoverers of the New World brought back with them the potato, tomato and corn, and (my favourite) the coffee bean. They also brought back the tobacco leaf, but we're mostly over that menace now.

After the Age of Discovery, Herschel's astronomical discoveries blew life into a whole new field of cosmology. And the steam engine was invented and put to work, replacing the power of so many horses - and so many slaves.

The rise of abolition was a scary time for slave holders, who had built a very comfortable life for their large families on the power of human labour. Many people in government had ties to slavery (think of Jefferson). People wrung their hands that abolition of slavery would bring about unimaginable disaster and social displacement, that the economy would be ruined; that slavery was the "natural" world order; that abolition would lead to the ruin of the former slaves; that the freed slaves might exact bloody revenge on their former masters.

In other words, that one cannot possibly transition from the energy of slaves to the new energy of coal and oil.

But the world did make that transition.

And now it is time to make the new transition. And it's scary for those of us who have built very comfortable lives on the power of fossil fuels. Many people in government have ties to the fossil fuel industry. People wring their hands that stopping the use of fossil fuels will bring unimaginable disaster and social displacement, that the economy will be ruined, that the development of natural resources is the natural world order, that the transition might give rise to hunger, rioting and bloody uprisings.

Guess what: we now look back and say, Yes, abolition was the obvious, the morally just thing to do. Fossil fuels helped better the lot of countless people, contributed to feeding millions, raised living standards. We're better off than before abolition. Besides, no number of slaves could propel you at 65 mph for hours at a stretch. Or get you and your luggage off the ground and wisk you off toward your vacation destination. Fossil fuels enabled us to do things that anti-abolitionists couldn't have dreamt of.

But for all the good things that the energy from fossil fuels has brought us, we are finding that it has its dark side, in the form of pollution, the encouragement of waste, and now climate change. Sometimes you find out that a relationship has become unhealthy. Then it's time to sue for divorce.

I'm not saying divorce is easy: in many ways it is just as scary as marriage. It's an upheaval. Like in the case of those major discoveries, it's easy to cling to the status quo that is unhealthy but familiar. But it's really time to break away: We all need to be like those explorers. We need to gather our courage, and trust that the new energy will not only get us away from the bad side effects of fossil fuel energy, but will bring us new possibilities that we cannot right now conceive.

Take heart: we can do this energy transition. After all, we've done it before, in getting away from the energy of slaves.



Shared at Simply Natural Saturdays

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Cars News and Reviews Review: Hyundai Elantra / Avante- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Friday

For the occasion of my brother's wedding, my family completely ruined our carbon footprint for this year. Because this is the middle of the school year, we flew over for just a few days, and we rented a car so that my dad could come with us everywhere.

The rental car was a Hyundai Elantra, a four-door sedan. I was offered an upgrade at pickup time, but declined, figuring you shouldn't drive a rental car that's too much larger than the one you drive daily. I hear this car is popular with rental car agencies because of its good maintenance record.

The Elantra falls in the "Economy" rental bracket, which means it carried five of us comfortably. Our luggage rattled around in the large trunk, which could easily accomodate both our cellos. There were a few blind spots that were larger than I would like, particularly the bar between the front windshield and the side windows.

The Elantra had a slight drive-by-wire feel to the handling, but it wasn't overwhelming. Its 1.8L, 148HP engine was completely up to the job of moving the car even when fully loaded (five people plus luggage), even for quick insertions in rush-hour traffic.

Here is one of those few cars that is sold in the US with an engine comparable to that offered elsewhere (instead of significantly larger). The 1.8L engine is the only one available in the US (and in New Zealand also), but that is down from the former offering of a 2.0L gasoline engine. In Korea (where this car is named the Avante) there is choice of three drivetrains, all with a 1.6L volume.

The Korean Avante GDi runs on unleaded gasoline (33mpg), while the VGT runs on low-sulphur diesel, has a slightly lower power (128HP) but packs 50% more torque than the American 1.8L, at higher fuel efficiency (48mpg). [I take it that the Korean test cycle is now reasonably accurate, since they quote the Toyota Prius at 50mpg].

There is also an Avante Hybrid, which is unusual in that it is an LPG hybrid running on liquid petroleum gas (a mixture of propane and butane which tends to burn much cleaner, especially for particulates, than gasoline containing longer hydrocarbon chains). It is quoted at 33 mpg but puts out only 92 g CO2 / km. [For comparison, a gasoline engine doing 59mpg would exhaust 92 g CO2/km].

Also becoming more rare now is the 10-year, 100,000 mile limited warranty on the powertrain, which backs up the Elantra's reputation for reliability. Its fuel efficiency of 37 mpg as reported by real drivers is really very good, and you can't complain about the price tag.

Compared to the 1.8L gasoline available in the US now, I would expect the diesel version with the smaller 1.6 engine volume to have a similar price point. But it delivers 43 mpg, making it very attractive for the long run as well. I hope it will come to the US soon.


Hyundai Elantra / Avante

Elantra (US) Avante (KR) Avante (KR)
Type GLS 1.6 GDi Style U2 1.6 VGT
Year 2013 2013 2013
Emissions rating ULEV    
MSRP $ 16,965 ₩ 13,950,000

(US $ 13,190)
₩ 15,950,000

(US $ 15,100)
CelloMom Rating
Fuel Economy:
City/Hwy quoted 28 / 38 mpg 12.5 / 16.7 km/L 16.9 / 20.8 km/L
Avg. quoted 32 mpg 14.1 km/L

18.5 km/L

Avg. actual 37 mpg    
Carbon emissions, quoted   122 g CO2 /km 103 g/km
Engine 1.8L, 16 vlv 1.6L 1.6L
Power 148HP @ 6500rpm 140 HP @ 6300rpm 128 HP @ 4000rpm
Torque 131 lb-ft @ 4700rpm 170 Nm

(125 lb-ft)

@ 4850rpm
265 Nm

(195 lb-ft) @

Transmission 6-spd man 6-spd man 6-spd man
Fuel Reg. unleaded Unleaded Diesel
Length, mm(in) 178.3 in 4550 mm  
Width, mm(in) 69.9 in 1775 mm  
Height, mm(in) 56.5 in 1435 mm  
Weight, kg(lbs) 2661 lbs 1210 kg 1305 kg
Trunk volume, liters(cuft) 14.8 cuft    
Turning radius, m(ft) 34.8 c-c    
Top speed, kph(mph)      



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Cars News and Reviews The Warmest Day of Your Life - So Far- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross

Okay, try this with me: Bring up the memory of the hottest day in your life. Picture it: Where were you that day? What were you doing? Who was with you? How did you cope with the heat?

I'll start.

The time was August 1988, a few weeks before the start of the academic year. The Northeast was gripped by a ten-day heat wave. I went to Boston's Logan Airport, to meet my then-boyfriend, who had decided to come to the US to go back to school.

He emerged from immigration and customs wearing a thin layer of perspiration. I could tell it wasn't my lovely presence that caused him to pant slightly.

"It's so hot!" was almost the first thing he said.

"Hot?" I said, "It's cool in here; this terminal has air-conditioning."

"This is air-conditioned?" he yelped. I could see a trace of panic come into his eyes. I suspect that at that moment he considered turning around and taking the next plane back to the pleasant Dutch climate. My poor boyfriend nearly passed out when we came outside into the heat and humidity. He spent the following days stretched out in front of a fan (I had no air conditioning then, either), while I fed him salads, iced lemonade, ice creams, everything cool.

Eventually, the heat wave passed. My boyfriend didn't turn back: he stayed, got his degree, and by and by became CelloDad. But it was a close call.

Now it's your turn.

Think back on that day, the hottest day in your life.

The fountains at the Philadephia Museum of Art, 1973


Now imagine that a time when such days happen a few times a year.

Then, a time when they happen pretty frequently.

I know, right? It makes you break out in a sweat just thinking about it. But it's coming unless we stop pumping carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into out planet's atmosphere, and it's coming sooner than we might think.

Climate change studies tend to depict scenarios around the year 2100: that's after my lifetime. I might not even see 2050. It's hard to wrap your head around dates that far into the future. But now a team led by Camilo Mora at the University of Hawaii at Manoa has put the data in a different light. It's eye-opening.

Climate Departure

Starting from the well-established climate data and models, Mora's team have computed the Year of Climate Departure for locations throughout the world. A place has reached climate departure when the average temperature of its coolest year from then on is expected to be higher than the average temperature of its hottest year between 1960 and 2005. It is the year in which that place has truly reached the "new normal" and its "old normal" is history.

Below is a world map with the year of climate departure indicated by colour, with a few cities highlighted. We've heard a lot about arctic sea ice melting, but this data shows that it is the tropical region which are first to reach climate departure, as early as 2020. This should worry us, because tropical species are much more vulnerable to changes in their environment than species in temperate zones. The group has posted an interactive map on which you can look up the Year of Climate Departure for your region.

When looking at data like this, we need to allow for the fact that climate scientists, like all scientists, are a careful bunch. They don't make statements that are not built on strong evidence. This is why their reports tend to understate the risks we face from climate change. They certainly don't include runaway warming scenarios. In fact, climate scientist Michael Mann has described this paper as "an overly rosy scenario". Well I'll be. Because if you look at the Climate Departure years for biodiversity, the picture is grim enough.

It's not just that we will sweat more: Our food chain might be in jeopardy within 25 years, or perhaps sooner. Before that food will merely get horrendously expensive. Species will migrate to milder climates. Well: it would be cool to have parrots and birds of paradise frequent our woods. But it won't work out that way: it's more likely that people in what are now temperate zones will be visited by scourges that are so far confined to tropical latitudes, like malaria, dengue fever, fast cockroaches and big spiders.

Canada's population is now concentrated near its boundary with the US because its northern reaches are too cold. But soon the US population might collect on the Canadian border trying to get away from the heat. Heck, at some point Canada might build a wall on its border to keep Americans out.

Is it hopeless? --No.

The map above is the "business as usual" scenario, where we keep burning fossil fuels and the CO2 content in the atmosphere has more than doubled to 936ppm by 2100. if we work very hard at limiting CO2 emissions, the outlook, though still serious, is not nearly as dire.

Here are a handful of reasons for hope:

From an article on

"33 leading U.S. businesses -- including eBay, Nike and General Motors -- released a statement ... supporting strong U.S. climate policies. And nearly 700 more companies have signed on to the "Climate Declaration" in the past month, most notably Microsoft. "

The cost of solar cells has dropped by 99% since 1977, which has caused a boom in the PV industry (see chart below). You know it's gone mainstream when IKEA starts selling solar panels. This must be the only place in the economy where I can be glad to see robust growth.

It took all of us to get us to this point. It will take all of us to get us back to relative safety. Make no mistake about it: we will all have to give up something. But we can't just sit back and wait for it to resolve itself. It really is up to us.

Join Citizens' Climate Lobby and pressure your elected representative to do the right thing. Doing the right thing is hard, and will not be popular: An article on The Hill's Energy & Environment blog says, "Imposing an explicit cost on carbon pollution is the best way to put countries on a path toward steep emissions cuts, according to new research by the OECD."

Don't wait for our elected "leaders" to lead: find ways to slash your own carbon footprint. Drive less, bike and walk more. Get informed, but choose your sources of information carefully: many are willfully misleading.

Hilal Elver in a piece at Al Jazeera:

"There is a great civilisation drama unfolding that pits the force and power of science and reason against the arrayed influence and power of money and vested interests in sustaining a petroleum-based economy long beyond its useful life expectancy. We, the public, have a great stake in the outcome of this struggle, and must not be content to stand meekly on the sidelines while the gladiators do battle."


Cross-posted at BlogHer; Shared at Small Footprint Friday



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Cars News and Reviews Radiative Forcing and Global Warming Potential- CARS NEWS AND REVIEWS

Posted by Carmella Ross on Tuesday

Sometimes science seems to use English words, but on closer inspection you find that the meaning of those words are not what you're used to.

"Positive Feedback" is a good example. At school, or at work, positive feedback is when you're complimented for a job done well. In the context of climate science, positive feedback often denotes a vicious cycle or self-reinforcing global warming, as in when waming leads to melting of permafrost, which releases methane (a powerful greenhouse gas), which in turn leads to further warming.

"Stampede Loop" by John Trevithick, a great example of a positive feedback loop.

I could think of a bunch of racier examples, but this is a general-audience blog, so I will refrain. Suffice it to say that sometimes scientists, with a straight face, will bandy about terms that in an ordinary non-scientific conversation would make you blush.

But back to global warming. The following are notes on my reading up about several terms that have been used a lot - but I realised I didn't quite understand. I learned that the fearfully named "radiative forcing" is simply the imbalance on the planet's energy balance sheet. That the term "global warming potential" is fraught with details, caveats and snags that nobody ever talks about. And I found out the reason for why people talk of the temperature rise associated with a "doubling of the CO2 concentration", rather than an increase by some amount.

There's a bit of math. That's okay: an equation is worth a thousand words. And math was the gateway through which I found out that some of the words used in the climate change discussion don't mean quite what I thought they did. So here goes.


The term "Radiative Forcing" gets used a lot in discussions on climate change. At first hearing, it might sound like the light emanating from the sun is pushing the earth into a larger orbit. But it's nothing of the kind.

Radiative Forcing (RF) is the difference between the radiant energy (per unit area, per unit time) received by the earth - mostly from the sun - and the energy radiated by the earth, back into space. The units are Watts per square meter (Wm-2).

Before the Industrial Revolution, the total RF=0, that is, the outgoing radiation exactly balanced the incoming radiation, so the earth was not accumulating excess energy, and did not warm (at least over the holocene, the last 10,000 or so years).

In the context of climate change, we are interested in the imbalance: anthropogenic CO2 emissions have caused the atmosphere to be more retentive of heat, so the earth is radiating less energy than it receives: this accumulation of energy is what causes global warming.


For the global warming due to a particular component of our planet, such as albedo, land use or any greenhouse gases, the IPCC defines radiative forcing as follows (my italics):

"Radiative forcing is a measure of the influence a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the Earth-atmosphere system and is an index of the importance of the factor as a potential climate change mechanism. In this report radiative forcing values are for changes relative to preindustrial conditions defined at 1750 (AD) and are expressed in Watts per square meter (W/m2)."

Here is an example for carbon dioxide (CO2). The earth radiates energy because its surface is warm, and the radiation has a spectrum that follows roughly the black body radiation spectrum, but modified by the atmospheric absorption. The absorption shows up as dips in the spectrum. The entire spectrum is in the far infrared (visible light would be at 19,000 - 28,000 cm-1).

The green line in the graph is the earth's irradiance for CO2 levels of 300 ppm. Wavenumber is the inverse of wavelength, measured in cm-1. Irradiance (on the y-axis) is the radiative forcing found over an interval of the spectrum; when graphed as a function of wavenumber, its units are Wm-2cm. The big dip around 660 cm-1 is the absorption band of CO2.

The blue line, for 600 ppm CO2, shows a slightly deeper dip at 660 cm-1, that is, the earth radiates less heat at the higher CO2 concentration. The difference doesn't look like much (more on that below), but integrating over the spectrum gives a total change in outward irradiance of ΔF=3.39 W/m2. This is the radiative forcing due to the additional 300 ppm of CO2.

[Incidentally, the sun's radiation also has a black-body spectrum. But because the sun's surface is much hotter than the earth's, the peak of the solar irradiance occurs in the visible, around 21000 cm-1 (or if you prefer thinking about wavelengths, around λ=590nm: yellow). This why the sun's incoming radiation doesn't depend on the concentration of greenhouse gases]

Carbon dioxide happens to be rather a difficult case: doubling the CO2 concentration does not make the absorption band at 660 cm-1 twice as deep. This is because CO2 is such a strong absorber that even at 300ppm it's well into the saturation region. The saturation effects cause the radiative forcing to have a logarithmic, rather than a linear, dependence on the CO2 concentration:

ΔF = 5.4 × ln (C/C0)

Here C is the CO2 concentration in ppm, and C0 is the reference concentration in the year 1750. This is why there is so much talk about "climate sensitivity", which is the amount of global warming following a "doubling" of CO2 concentrations: because of the logarthmic dependence, a doubling of the concentration will give a certain amount of radiative forcing that is independent of the starting concentration.

The current CO2 concentration is 400ppm, only 120ppm above pre-industrial values, so right now ΔF=1.9 Wm-2. The total anthropogenic radiative forcing, 2.3 Wm-2, is only 1.5% of the total average solar flux (150Wm-2), yet is enough to cause the global warming that represents such a threat to our species. Maybe it's that the planet is large: another measure of global warming is that our planet is accumulating the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs worth of energy every second.

NOTE: the logarithmic dependence holds only for CO2. In contrast, ΔF for methane and N2O have a square-root dependence on concentration, while ΔF of a number of CFC gases have a linear dependence: these are far from the saturation limit. These are listed, with the coefficients, in IPCC's AR3.

Nature is just marvellous in its complexity. But it's not easy to talk about it in the kind of soundbites that the media is used to feeding us.


In case RF wasn't complicated enough, now let's talk about Global Warming Potential (GWP).

Remember, radiative forcing is the rate at which heat is retained in the earth's atmosphere instead of being radiated out into space. That's why its units are W/m2. But it doesn't tell you about the total heat retained by the earth because of an emissions of some greenhouse gas.

[In everyday terms: your hair dryer might use 1500 W of power. But the energy consumed (and the amount of heat you release in your bathroom) depends on how long you have the hair dryer turned on. If you've used it for half an hour, that's 750Wh, or 0.75kWh. If your teenage daughter busies herself with it for a whole hour, she will contribute 1.5kWh to the household energy use stated on your electricity bill (and you may want to talk to her about the risk of hearing damage) ].

Energy is power multiplied by the time it is applied. SI units doesn't use kWh, but Joules: 1J=1Ws=1 Watt-second. Heat is one particular kind of energy, and is also measured in Joules.

I'm going on about this because knowing the radiative forcing due to some of greenhouse gas (GHG) is not enough to tell you how much total warming that gas will cause: for that you need to integrate the radiative forcing over the lifetime of the gas. Each gas has its own lifetime in the atmosphere, ranging from hundreds of years in the case of CO2, to a few weeks for tropospheric ozone. For methane it's about 12 years.

So while methane may be a much feistier greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, it has much less time to wreak its havoc. The concept of global warming potential attempts to make a reasonable comparison between the long-term climate effects of these disparate greenhouse gases.

Let's look at IPCC's definition of global warming potential: "The GWP has been defined as the ratio of the time-integrated radiative forcing from the instantaneous release of 1 kg of a trace substance relative to that of 1 kg of a reference gas":

GWP \left(x\right) = \frac{\int_0^{TH} a_x \cdot \left[x(t)\right] dt} {\int_0^{TH} a_r \cdot \left[r(t)\right] dt}

where TH is the time horizon over which the calculation is considered; ax is the radiative efficiency (same, as far as I can tell, as radiative forcing) due to a unit increase in atmospheric abundance of the substance (so its units are Wm-2 kg-1) and [x(t)] is the time-dependent decay in abundance of the substance following an instantaneous release of it at time t=0. The denominator contains the corresponding quantities for the reference gas CO2.

If I read the description of GWP in AR3 correctly, this definition uses a perturbative approach: GWP is the global warming response to the emission of a small additional amount of greenhouse gas x , in the presence of the other greenhouse gases that are already around. It's analogous to the marginal cost in economics. It depends, among many other things, on the time scale over which you look (TH) and the concentration of all the greenhouse gases already present.

The reference gas, CO2, is an unfortunate choise, because it is such an unruly beast (non-linear density dependence, rather intractable lifetime). So GWP may not be the greatest choice of measures by which to compare the badassedness of a particular greenhouse gas.

But this is the measure we've got, and as long as you remember all the caveats, which none of the journalists ever mention, GWP does give you the relative impact of a small additional amount of a given greenhouse gas, at least as compared to the major bad actor, CO2.

A list of GWP for the most common greenhouse gases shows the values for TH=20 years and TH=100 years. Another caveat: water is too slick to handle because its GWP depends on a huge number of parameters, not the least fluctuating of which is the temperature. So that's left out of the discussion altogether, even though we know from daily experience that a cloudy sky or even high humidity makes for warmer nights than a clear one.

It was pointed out quite early on (and repeated in AR5) that there is no scientific case for choosing to report GWP at 100 years rather than over some other time horizon. The choice of time horizon is a "value judgement". Meaning, there is space here for manipulation and misinterpretation. Also, if we ever get in the situation of runaway global warming, the relevant time horizon becomes the lifetime of the main cause of the positive feedback, very probably methane.


If you are interested in the global warming caused by the emissions of a unit amount of gas, you don't normalise to CO2, you would simply retain the numerator of the equation defining GWP, and integrate out to infinite time, to get the absolute global warming potential, AGWP, which has units Jm-2kg-1.

AGWP = ∫0∞ ax·[x(t)] dt

If you want to know how much heat the earth retains as the result of greenhouse gas emission, the AGWP needs to be multiplied by the surface of the earth, and the total mass M of the emitted greenhouse gas:

ΔE = 4πR2 M ∫0∞ ax·[x(t)] dt

The units for ΔE is Joules. As an example, the oceans are where 93% of the planet excess heat is absorbed. The change in heat content of the oceans since we started burning fossil fuels is now close to 2x1023 Joules.

I repeat the caveat: The above formula only holds for incremental amounts of GHG emission (small M), for those GHGs which don't have a linear concentration dependence. See the discussion of nonlinearities under radiative forcing.


If you're interested in what kind of temperature rise a given amount of GHG emissions would cause, you need the Global Temperature change Potential, or GTP. Here, "temperature" refers to the global mean surface temperature, so GTP depends also on how the retained heat is distributed among the atmosphere, the land and the oceans. So its estimate encompasses the entire geological complexity that makes this planet such a wonderful place to live on.

It is a testament to climate scientists' prowess and tenacity that global warming predictions have been so accurate.



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Posted by Carmella Ross on Monday

CelloMom is having some domain name issues, but the blog is alive and well, and can be accessed at Some links may not be updated yet; if you come across any, I apologise. Just insert the extra "blogspot" in the URL.

If you subscribe to my RSS feed, you may have missed posts for the month of September. They are listed below if you want to catch up.

Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving

The Toyota Yaris is Not a "Teen" Car

Two Cellos in the House

Global Warming Denialism May Have Origin in the Victorian Frame of Mind

Let's Talk with Our Children about Global Warming, with Sense and Sensitivity

How My Children's School Greened Me

Teach Your Parents Well: Children's Views on Climate Change

Wake Up: Garbage Trucks Ready to Dump on Your Lawn



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